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General Faruk Yahaya is 22nd COAS, not 26th as widely reported in media

Photo source: BBC 6 mins read

Claim: Multiple sources have portrayed Nigeria’s new Chief of Army Staff, Major General Faruk Yahaya, as the 26th Chief of Army Staff (COAS) but the Nigerian Army claims he is the 22nd.

The claim that the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Major General Faruk Yahaya, is the 26th COAS is false as findings show that the nomenclature COAS only came into existence in 1975, thus making Lt. General TY Danjuma the first COAS and General Yahaya the 22nd.

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On Thursday 27th May 2021, Major General Faruk Yahaya assumed command as Nigeria’s new Chief of Army Staff after the demise of his predecessor, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru, who died on May 21st 2021 in an air crash in Kaduna, alongside 10 military officers and crew.   

The Nigerian Army had issued a statement by its Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima, announcing the passing away of Gen Attahiru stating that the COAS was enroute Kaduna from Abuja when the unfortunate incident happened.

The Chief of Army Staff is the highest-ranking military officer of the Nigerian Army and the position, often occupied by the most senior commissioned officer, is appointed by the Nigerian President. 

On May 27, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Major General Faruk Yahaya as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Until his appointment, Gen Yahaya was the Theatre Commander, Operation HADIN KAI, which is responsible for Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency operations in the North East of Nigeria.

Some online media outlets such as Fast News, Opera News and Society Gazette as well as Nigerians on social media had portrayed General Yahaya as the 26th COAS, but the Nigerian Army on the 28th of May 2021, announced that Major General Faruk Yahaya had assumed command as the 22nd COAS at the Army Headquarters (AHQ) in Abuja. However, controversy arose as to whether the present COAS is the 22nd or 26th Chief of Army Staff to hold the office and serve as Nigerian Army’s most senior officer. 

Screen shot of Premium Times’ Instagram post

The same designation was replicated on social media. A user on Twitter, Angela Davis (@angeldaviesblog) wrote: “How Major General Faruk Yahaya became Nigeria’s 26th COAS.” 

Another user, 774NGR (@774_ngr) also wrote on  Twitter: “There is now a new man at the helm of affairs in the Nigerian Army. He is Major General Faruk Yahaya, and he is the 26th Chief of Army Staff since the Military first got a taste of political power back in January 1966.”

Angela Davis’ tweet

On the website of the Nigerian Army, under the office of the COAS, the profile of the immediate past COAS, Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru, had him addressed as the 20th and in another instance as the 21st COAS, further complicating the issue. This has left many Nigerians wondering what number the present COAS is.

Nigerian Army portraying the immediate past COAS as the 20th and the 21st 

Verification

In our quest to verify the various claims, it became important to start with the history of the Nigerian Army which dates back to 1863 with Lt. John Glover’s local force which became known as the “Glover Hausas” and later the “Hausa Constabulary.” It later became the “Lagos Constabulary” and on incorporation into the West Africa Frontier Force (WAFF) in 1901, became known as the “Lagos Battalion.”

According to the Nigerian Army website, the British Government had already included the Royal Niger Company (RNC), Constabulary Force in Northern Nigeria in 1886 and the Oil Rivers irregular in 1891 into the WAFF. The WAFF led to the merger of all units into regiments in each of the dependencies and this produced the Northern Nigerian Regiment and Southern Nigerian Regiment. The 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria which brought the Northern and Southern Protectorates together also unified the Northern and Southern Regiments to become the Nigerian Regiments.

However, the Nigerian Regiment was renamed the Queen’s Own Nigerian Regiments (QONR) in 1956 during the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and in the same year, the regionalization of the WAFF came into existence and each military force became independent of the other. According to the Nigerian Army, the QONR became the Nigerian Military Force (NMF) and by 1st June, 1958, the British Army Council in London relinquished control of NMF to the Nigerian Government while in 1960, when Nigeria became independent, the NMF became known as the Royal Nigerian Army (RNA). The RNA changed to the Nigerian Army in 1963 when Nigeria became a republic.

Past GOC’s/COAS

Several online records have portrayed Kenneth G. Exham as Nigeria’s first General Officers Commanding (GOC) followed by Major General Norman Foster, then Major General Christopher Welby-Everard and Major General Aguyi-Ironsi who was the first indigenous GOC. This is also corroborated by a report published by The Premium Times in 2014 titled: “General Minimah, his Opobo ancestry and the burden of history,” written by Eric Teniola. Based on the report, Nigeria at that time had 28 COAS including the early British GOC’s. The report portrayed Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon as the first COAS followed by Lt. Col. Joseph Akahan, Maj. Gen. Hassan Usman Katsina, Maj. Gen. David Ejoor, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, Lt. Gen. Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, Lt. Gen. Gibson Jalo, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha, Lt. Gen. Salihu Ibrahim and Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau Mohammed.

Others include Maj. Gen. Chris Alli, Maj. Gen. Alwali Kazir, Lt. Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, Lt. Gen. Victor Malu, Lt. Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, Lt. Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, Lt. Gen. Owoeye Andrew Azazi, Lt. Gen. Luka Yusuf, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau, Lt. Gen. Onyabor Azubuike Ihejirika as well as Maj. Gen Kenneth Tobiah Minimah.

Since Minimah, Lt. General Tukur Buratai has held the position before he was replaced in January 2021 by Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru who has now been succeeded by Major General Faruk Yahaya, making the list 31.

Other online documents show that it was  not until 1966, under then Lt. Col Yakubu Gowon that the official designation of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) came into existence, therefore referring to Lt. General Yakubu Gowon as Nigeria’s first COAS. With this, between 1966 and 2021, it can be verified that Nigeria has had 26 Chiefs of Army Staff (COAS) with late Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru as the 25th and Major General Faruk Yahaya as the 26th COAS.

Using oral records from senior military officers of the Nigerian Army and archival records, however, it was verified that what is today referred to as the Nigerian Army officially came into existence in 1963 after it changed from the Royal Nigerian Army. Within that period, Major General Christopher Welby-Everard became the first GOC of the Nigerian Army between 1963-1965. He was replaced on 9th February 1965 by General Aguyi-Ironsi who served as the GOC until 16th January 1966.

However, further verification revealed that General Yakubu Gowon who took over in 1966 from General Ironsi was not referred to as GOC or COAS; instead, he was referred to as Chief of Staff Army. “Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Lt. Col. Joseph Akahan, Maj. Gen. Hassan Usman Katsina, and Maj. Gen. David Ejoor were each referred to as Chief of Staff Army (CSA), not Chief of Army Staff (COAS),” said the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima when contacted.

Chronicle of Nigerian Army Command from the 2021 diary

A chronicle of the Nigerian Army Command published in the 2021 diary of the Nigerian Army corroborates this. This makes Lt Gen. T.Y. Danjuma the first COAS. Between Lt. Gen. T.Y. Danjuma and Lt Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, there have been 21 COAS, making Major General Faruk Yahaya Nigeria’s 22nd COAS.     

Conclusion

The claim that the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Major General Faruk Yahaya, is the 26th COAS is incorrect as the nomenclature, COAS only came into existence in 1975 during the administration of General Ramat Murtala Mohammed when he appointed General T.Y. Danjuma to be the first COAS. Therefore, General Faruk Yahaya is the 22nd COAS as findings have shown.  

The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Daily Trust to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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